Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

April 29 2011

18:00

MSNBC.com’s Breaking News traces info to its source

There are some news events whose coverage is planned far — far, far — in advance of the events themselves. Those are exceptions, though: Most of the time, news is unscripted and unpredictable — breaking, appropriately enough, through the fabric of daily routine.

The tornado-laden storms that ravaged the South this week were some of those breaking news events. So were last month’s earthquake, and resulting tsunami, in northern Japan. For occurrences like those, as we know all too well, up-to-the-minute news can be especially hard to come by, since we don’t (yet) have a mechanism that connects sudden eyewitnesses of news events to the people who suddenly want to learn about those events.

MSNBC.com, though, is trying to provide that kind of connection through its Breaking News trifecta — a branded web domain, Twitter feed, and Facebook page, complemented by three mobile apps — that aims to be a curation engine for breaking news. The idea is to collect the biggest stories of the moment, in near real-time, from hundreds of news sources worldwide — including, often, eyewitness accounts shared on social media from people at the scene of breaking-news events. Google News-style, the feature aggregates stories from around the web and links out, when possible, to their full versions. River-of-news-style, it strips stories of their narrative and context, honing them down to their headlines.

“Our goal is to empower the moment of discovery,” says Cory Bergman, who helps run the project for MSNBC.com. Breaking News’ editors — “a small, caffeinated team of news junkies embedded inside msnbc.com’s newsroom” — scan wire services, Twitter, RSS feeds, live video feeds, YouTube, and even email alerts to hunt for breaking news, (ideally) immediately after it breaks. Their goal in that, Bergman told me, is “to discover the first instance of a breaking update in real time.” That instance could come from an Alabama paper or a person in Sendai, or anything (or anyone) in between. And it can come via users themselves, who, increasingly, are helping Breaking News editors flag noteworthy events that are bubbling up among social and local media. And “as we find stories and eyewitness accounts,” Bergman says, “we link to the originator directly, and credit them, and send them a short burst of traffic.”

To do all that, the team relies on a range of social networks, but focuses most squarely on Twitter. “Twitter is the real-time news distribution platform, quite frankly,” Bergman puts it. And, as such, “the twitter lexicon is infused in how we work and how we think.”

The main point, though, is…the pointing. Breaking News provides the raw material of the news — the quick-hit updates, in real-time — but it’s not trying to provide, in any strict sense, stories. Though the way that breaking news events are presented and contextualized is, clearly, crucial, Bergman notes, “in many ways, we’re a breaking-news discovery service that’s completely agnostic of source.” Which means: “We don’t want to own the news; we just want to point to it.”

That attitude isn’t unusual — do what you do best, link to the rest, etc. — but it’s noteworthy considering that it’s coming from a major media organization. (Breaking News is something of a skunkworks project at MSNBC.com: In 2010, Charlie Tillinghast, MSNBC.com’s general manager and publisher, appointed Bergman, along with Tom Brew and Ben Tesch, to do something interesting with breakingnews.com, which MSNBC.com had just acquired. The curation project is the result of that charge.) Every once in a while, the Breaking News team “might skew toward NBC” in the stories it promotes, Bergman acknowledges. Overall, though, “we are very, very passionate about keeping an even line and linking the first iteration — the first instance of breaking news — regardless of where it comes from.”

And the team is hoping that user contributions will help scale that idea. Last month, Breaking News launched a new set of features that allows users themselves curate information — providing, essentially, the same tools that the editors themselves use to discover and share breaking news. Those tools allow users to scan live updates from dozens of news organizations; to comb video and images — from (currently) YouTube, Twitpic, yFrog, and Plixi — for eyewitness accounts of events; or simply to share links to breaking news stories, tweets, images, and videos that the users have already come across. “If we can grow a community of spotters,” Bergman notes, that alone “would have an amazing impact on the breaking news that we discover.”

The idea — and the hope — is to provide a link between breaking news and the news more broadly. “Hard and fast breaking news is currently an underserved market,” Tillinghast noted last year; the Breaking News project is hoping to change that.

May 07 2010

20:00

Say what you will about Newsweek…but don’t forget about their Tumblr

The Awl put it best: “For sale: Perennial runner-up weekly publication in dying media segment. $0 or best offer. Includes funny Tumblr.”

The Tumblr in question? Newsweek’s. Yes, Newsweek’s. The “foul-mouthed” and “Gawkeresque (old Gawkeresque)” cousin of newsweek.com — the site that, in response to this week’s news of the magazine’s sale, announced: “Look, We Don’t Want to Seem Ungrateful, But if We Are to Be Acquired by Any Latin Superstar, We Kinda Hope It’s Shakira”…tagging the post “Culture,” “Journalism,” “Us,” and “Our Hips Are Exceptionally Truthful.”

Like the best Tumblrs, the site is random and trenchant and funny and unapologetically idiosyncratic. But what’s most striking about it, for our purposes, is that the Tumblr is all those things…while also being very much a vehicle of “the Newsweek brand.” It’s not just that the bright-red Newsweek logo is the first thing that catches your eye when you visit the site; it’s also that, more significantly, much of the Tumblr’s content is curated from Newsweek’s primary web offerings. Yesterday, it reposted this pearl of wisdom from a comment on the parent site (with the note that “sometimes the Newsweek commenters just crack us up”): “About ten years ago I heard someone from the homosexual lobby say that the only music genre they had not infiltrated was country music! Immediately after that Leann Rhimes did a duet with Elton John and now, here we are.”

Indeed. While “the Tumblr and its sense of humor and things like that are probably slightly different from the general Newsweek audience,” acknowledges Mark Coatney, Newsweek.com’s projects editor and the Tumblr’s creator and producer…it’s not that far afield. Today, for example, the Tumblr features long(-ish) excerpts from Newsweek pieces about the Palin/Fiorina endorsement and the outcome of the British election. “I feel like I have a pretty good idea, organizationally, of what the Newsweek sensibility is,” Coatney told me. “That might be slightly different from mine, but I try to hew closely to that.”

When traditional media latch on to new forms

The Tumblr’s fate is, at the moment, as precarious as that of its parent magazine. But it’s worth noting that, even as Newsweek, as a magazine and a website, got a reputation for mediocrity and stagnancy — and even as, yesterday, all the familiar they failed to innovate truisms came out in full, schadenfreudic force — over at the outlet’s Tumblr, innovation (and experimentation, and engagement and conversation) were actually taking place. Just on a small scale.

“The nice thing about management is that they’ve been very much like, ‘Experiment. Do whatever you want. Don’t embarrass us too much. And see how it goes,’” Coatney says. The institution gave agency to one of its members to experiment with something he cared about; it gave him leave not only to leverage his expertise, but also simply to have fun as he leveraged. The groking and the rocking, rolled into one.

Which is a small thing, but a rather profound one, as well. “The problem with the magazine industry,” Evan Gotlib wrote (in a post quoted on, yes, the Newsweek Tumblr), “is that they all too often latch on to new technology (Let’s make an iPhone app! Let’s build a Facebook fan page! Let’s create print ads with RFID scan technology! Let’s start a Tumblr blog!) without understanding the REASON behind that beautiful technology. It’s not a strategy; it’s a last gasp tactic.” The secret sauce of the Newsweek Tumblr, though, is the fact that it wasn’t part of a strategy at all. It was simply an experiment, given the freedom (from commercial pressure, from corporate overlordism) to develop organically. As Coatney puts it: “It was kind of nice not to have any expectations around it.”

Another way to put it: the Tumblr, as part of an overall approach to institutional media, suggests the power of the personal — the idiosyncratic, the unique — in journalism. The site is aware of the institution whose brand it bears, but isn’t overwhelmed by it. On the contrary: The Tumblr has “made us able to put our story out there and talk to people in a way that I think is hard for big media companies to do,” Coatney says. But it’s flattened the conversation, putting Newsweek — the Media Institution — and its readers on equal footing. And it’s made the Media Institution more responsive to its users. The Tumblr — and, in particular, the ability to see what posts people comment on, reblog, etc. — ”gives me a good sense of what people respond to,” Coatney points out. So “you get that immediate feedback.”

The problem of scale

Which isn’t to say there aren’t tensions between the personal and institutional in even something as unassuming as a Tumblr. Scalability can be a challenge, for one thing. In the same way that a Twitter feed with 1,000 followers will have, almost de facto, a different voice than a Twitter feed with 100,000 followers, a Tumblr that gets too big — Newsweek’s has about 8,000 followers right now — could lose its power, and its voice, and its quirk. “It’s a real concern of mine,” Coatney says. “Because part of the value of this is that you’re able to talk and respond to and reblog people. If I see something that I like from somebody else, I try to comment on it and point it out. And if suddenly there are a million people talking all at once, I’m not sure quite how to deal with that yet.” (Then again: “If we get a million followers, I’ll happily try to figure that out.”)

Another challenge is the perennial one: commercial appeal. The Tumblr, on its own, isn’t easily monetized through online ads or other traditional methods of money-making. Right now, the site gets about 1,000 visits a day, Coatney notes — “not really a volume in which many advertisers are going to be interested.”

Still, from the branding perspective, the Tumblr represents a mindset that is scalable. Whatever Newsweek’s fate — and whatever responsibility it must take for that fate — the outlet currently has an example of innovative thinking under its institutional umbrella, one that serves as a reminder of what the best journalism has always understood: that there’s nothing wrong with a little whimsy. “In the end, we use Tumblr not because it’s a great way to connect with our readers (though it is that), or because we believe this or something like it is a part of a new way forward for interaction between publishers and audience (though we think that too),” Coatney writes. “We use Tumblr because it’s fun and while, you know, you can’t eat fun, or trade it in for fistfuls of dollars to fund serious journalism, we believe there’s a value in doing things we like simply because we like to do them, and that hopefully our fellow Tumblrs will too.”

November 27 2009

12:35
Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl